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Natalie Coughlin: Professional swimmer, amateur gorilla-watcher

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Fresh off her history-making performance in London that saw her tie Dara Torres’ and Jenny Thompson’s all-time Olympic medals total of 12 (the most for a U.S. female), Natalie Coughlin wants to keep swimming at age 30.

We caught up with Coughlin and talked about working out, her recent trip to Africa – where she proudly wore her Oakland Raiders hat in the jungle – and a whole lot more. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation:

How much swimming and training are you doing?
I’ve been lifting, running and swimming. I haven’t formally started training with the team yet, but I have been working out on my own. I’m swimming five days a week … not over 5,000 [meters a day].

When will you start competing again?
I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure out my meet schedule. But I’ll definitely be at Santa Clara [Grand Prix in early June] and World Championships Trials [in late June].

You do a lot of running. Ever think of going the Brendan Hansen route and doing triathlons?
The whole cycling thing freaks me out. Being on the road with cars … when I’m in my own car I don’t trust other drivers. If there were run-swims, I would do those.
Editor’s note: Natalie, try an aquathlon.

Did it really take you 45 hours to travel to Rwanda for your recent trip with Right to Play?
We ended up having mechanical issues in Chicago that ruined the rest of our flight. We flew from San Francisco to Chicago, then Chicago to Brussels. And originally we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Kigali [Rwanda] but because we missed that connection, and that connection only happens twice a week, we couldn’t get a flight. So we ended up having this 10-hour layover in Brussels, and then we flew Brussels to Paris, Paris to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then Entebbe, Uganda to Rwanda.

We missed the first day of only a five-day trip. The day we landed, two hours later we had a press conference. Whenever I wasn’t speaking I was dozing off in front of all these reporters. I was at the point of absolute exhaustion.

Tell us about the gorillas you saw in Rwanda.
I will admit, there were times when I accepted that I might get completely mauled by gorillas. [laughs] A toddler gorilla kicked me and ran off. The alpha silverback came to me and brushed up against me. I was trying to look at the ground, look anywhere but in his eyes.

What else stood out during the trip?
I had my big camera and I’m taking all these photos of the kids. Everywhere we went, they were so excited to see us. They were signing and dancing and including us in all the Right to Play games. The kids … would ask me to take pictures of them so they could see their photos. It was because they don’t have mirrors; they don’t know what they look like.

If you retired tomorrow, would you be satisfied?
I don’t think I can ever be satisfied with my career, but I’m extremely proud of it. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But half the reason that I’m continuing is that I still have goals for myself. That being said, if this all gets taken away from me somehow I will continually be proud of it and I’ll be OK with moving on. I love doing this, so why not?

Right to Play is an international organization dedicated to using sport and play to empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. Read more at righttoplay.com.

500 Days to Pyeongchang: Five athletes to watch

PARK CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 06:  Chloe Kim celebrates a first place finish in the ladies' FIS Snowboard World Cup at the 2016 U.S Snowboarding Park City Grand Prix on February 6, 2016 in Park City, Utah.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Today marks 500 days until the Opening Ceremony of 2018 Winter Olympics.

Below are five U.S. athletes to get to know before February 9, 2018:

Ryan Bailey (Bobsled): Bailey, who finished fifth as a sprinter in the London Olympic 100m, is attempting to compete at the 2018 Olympics as a bobsledder. On Sept. 21, just weeks into his bobsled career, he won the men’s push athlete national title. The last male Summer Olympian to make a U.S. Olympic bobsled team was Willie Davenport in 1980.

MORE: Converted sprinter Ryan Bailey wins bobsled national title

Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson (Speed Skating): Bowe and Richardson have been trading world records in recent years. Last November, Bowe broke her own women’s 1000m world record, only to have Richardson lower it just three minutes later. A week later, Bowe broke the world record in the event once again.

MORE: Dan Jansen explains recent flurry of world records

Meryl Davis and Charlie White (Figure Skating): The future is uncertain for Davis and White, who became the first U.S. couple to win an Olympic ice dance title in Sochi. They have not competed since the 2014 Olympics, but they have also not announced their retirement.

MORE: Where Meryl Davis, Charlie White stand on possible comeback

Chloe Kim (Snowboarding): Kim mathematically qualified for the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in halfpipe, but at 13, she was not old enough to be eligible to compete in Sochi. A U.S. woman has won gold in the event at three of the past four Olympics, but Kaitlyn Farrington, who won halfpipe gold in Sochi, retired after being diagnosed with a spinal condition.

MORE: Kaitlyn Farrington retires from snowboarding

Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine Skiing): Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion at the 2014 Games, when she was 18. Four years later, she is hoping to become the first Alpine skier — man or woman — to repeat as slalom gold medalist. She also could become the first U.S. women’s Alpine skier to win gold medals in multiple Olympics.

Michael Phelps warned Ryan Lochte to ‘Keep your head on straight’

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  Gold medalist Townley Haas, Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps of the United States celebrate during the medal presentation for the Men's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — Add Michael Phelps‘ name to the list of Americans who were less than amused by teammate Ryan Lochte’s post-competition, early morning drunken antics at the Rio Olympics.

“I did have a talk with him about two days before about not doing anything bad,” said Phelps, who retired after the Summer Games as the most-decorated Olympian of all time. “I told him, `Just keep your head on straight. Have fun.”‘

Apparently, the warning didn’t take.

Lochte and three teammates got into a scrape with a security at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro after a night of partying. He originally claimed he and young teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen were threatened and robbed at gunpoint but was later charged in Brazil with filing a false police report.

Lochte, 32, whose 12 medals and six golds make him the second-most decorated Olympic swimmer, was banned from competition for 10 months – including a chance to qualify for next summer’s world championships – by the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming.

He also forfeited $100,000 in medal bonuses, was dropped from the Olympic team’s White House visit and was ordered to perform 20 hours of community service. His three teammates were given four-month bans and dropped from the White House visit.

Despite losing a number of sponsorship deals as well, Lochte hasn’t lowered his public profile. He’s competing this season on “Dancing With the Stars,” where two protestors rushed the stage during a taping of the show in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Lochte had just performed a foxtrot routine with professional partner Cheryl Burke to “Call Me Irresponsible” and appeared briefly shaken.

The two men were quickly tackled by security guards and face misdemeanor charges in Los Angeles. They later said their purpose was “to get the message out that Lochte is a coward, a liar and under Brazilian law, a criminal.”

Lochte posted on Instagram the day after the show aired, thanking “everyone on the show, including my partner Cheryl, my fellow competitors, the producers, the security team and its fans.”

#DWTS #family #dancingwiththestars

A photo posted by Ryanlochte (@ryanlochte) on

Phelps won five gold medals and a silver in Rio, bringing his career totals to 23 golds and 28 medals.

He was in Minnesota getting a behind-the-scenes look at Ryder Cup preparations ahead of this weekend’s matches. The avid golfer was scheduled to play in Tuesday’s celebrity tournament and is also making appearances on behalf of his sponsor, Omega.

MORE: Michael Phelps set to golf with Bill Murray